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How to Manage Software Development Risks in an Agile Environment

How to Manage Software Development Risks in an Agile Environment

 

Every mobile app development project involves some degree of risk. How enterprises plan to mitigate or prevent these risks will ensure a higher probability of project success. Practicing agile software development addresses many of the risks associated with traditional waterfall environments by concentrating on fast, rapid iterations; however, threats are still prevalent in many agile environments. Often, these risks are a result of project team mistakes, planning errors, failures in process, and unexpected changes as products evolve. 

 

Depending on the nature of the project, these risks can vary, but they can typically fall into five categories. This article addresses each software development risk and how it can be managed to mitigate delays, mistakes, and other barriers to shipping a successful product.

 

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Five Types of Software Development Risk

 

Budget Risk

As the name suggests, this is the risk of projects going over budget. Budget risk is perhaps the most common risk in software development, and it’s often tied to other issues in the software development lifecycle.

 

Personnel Risk

Personnel risk is the chance of losing or the absence of project team members. Even over a short period, personnel risk can cause delays and errors and miscommunication.

 

Knowledge Risk 

When there are silos or the transfer of information is imperfect, this is known as knowledge risk. The process of relearning results in additional labor, time, and resources. 

 

Productivity Risk 

Productivity risk is common in long projects, mainly when deadlines and goals are long-term. This environment creates a lack of immediacy and urgency for deliverables.

 

Time Risk 

Product delays are all-too-common in software development. Time risk is typically the result of poor planning, unrealistic timelines, and the inability to adapt to changing product requirements. 

 

Managing Risks in Agile Software Development

 

For enterprises that work with traditional methodologies like waterfall, transitioning to agile software development can cause uncertainty. While the inherent cadence and iterative nature of agile practices make them well suited for the management of a wide range of risks familiar with software development, these practices can also instill fear in those tasked with driving and safeguarding process changes. 

 

While agile may lack the practices of traditional risk management (i.e., risk logs, assessments, or audits), there are several ways agile offers solutions for addressing risk. The remainder of this article takes an in-depth look at the solutions an agile environment provides to solve the software development risks mentioned above.

Budget Risk

Solution: In software development, you necessarily make assumptions that cannot be proven or disproven until more information becomes available. As development progresses, objectives or goals may shift, or the product may need to pivot to be viable. 

 

Rolling wave planning is a method of project management designed to account for budget risk. Teams make product decisions when they are in the best position to make them, rather than presenting very detailed plans at the beginning of the project. Therefore, you make actionable decisions that are informed by new knowledge and the progression of the product. Rolling wave planning mitigates budget risk because you do not have to waste time and resources re-planning.

 

While rolling wave planning helps keep your project under budget, it’s crucial to create a budgeting plan that acknowledges the entire scope of the project. Many companies underestimate the cost of developing a functional mobile app and make several mistakes in the budgeting process. Every software development project is different, so it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the services you require.

Personnel, Knowledge Risks

Solution: Squad-based development. Squads are co-located, 10 to 12 person teams that plan together, share knowledge, complete code reviews, and work together on a given project from beginning to end. They have a known maximum capacity and open flow of knowledge, which helps address both personnel and knowledge risk, as it eliminates knowledge silos and gives team members the ability to seamlessly take on tasks if somebody is absent or leaves the team.  

Productivity Risk

Solution: iterative development phases known as sprints. Sprints accomplish a demo version of the product within the given timeframe (usually, every two weeks). They serve to provide actionable goals and objectives to product teams and add a sense of immediacy and short-term accomplishment. Sprints help mitigate complacency and maintain project velocity by dividing the work into smaller, manageable tasks. 

Time Risk

Solution: Time risk can emerge from scope creep, gold-plating, or the “perfection complex,” improper capacity planning, and rigid development processes. A replicable, flexible process is the most effective way of dealing with common causes of time risk. 

 

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The Key to Managing Risk during Agile

In an agile environment, risk management doesn’t have to involve the formal documentation and meetings of traditional development settings. Instead, risk management is built into scrum roles, sprints, and events. As a project progresses in an agile environment, the risk of that project declines. The key to managing agile software development risks is to ensure your process encourages flexibility. A flexible process helps team members adapt quickly to changing product needs, promotes rapid and frequent delivery, and contains change management controls. By implementing the practices mentioned above – sprints, squad-based development, and rolling wave planning – teams better position themselves to manage time and expectations to mitigate product delays and eliminate large-scale failure. 

 

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Chris Ciligot
Chris Ciligot